2019-05-21Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.18452/20649
Triceps Surae Muscle-Tendon Unit Properties in Preadolescent Children: A Comparison of Artistic Gymnastic Athletes and Non-athletes
Knowledge regarding the effects of athletic training on the properties of muscle and tendon in preadolescent children is scarce. The current study compared Achilles tendon stiffness, plantar flexor muscle strength and vertical jumping performance of preadolescent athletes and non-athletes to provide insight into the potential effects of systematic athletic training. Twenty-one preadolescent artistic gymnastic athletes (9.2 ± 1.6 years, 15 girls) and 11 similar-aged non-athlete controls (9.0 ± 1.7 years, 6 girls) participated in the study. The training intensity and volume of the athletes was documented for the last 6 months before the measurements. Subsequently, vertical ground reaction forces were measured with a force plate to assess jumping performance during squat (SJ) and countermovement jumps (CMJ) in both groups. Muscle strength of the plantar flexor muscles and Achilles tendon stiffness were examined using ultrasound, electromyography, and dynamometry. The athletes trained 6 days per week with a total of 20 h of training per week. Athletes generated significantly greater plantar flexion moments normalized to body mass compared to non-athletes (1.75 ± 0.32 Nm/kg vs. 1.31 ± 0.33 Nm/kg; p = 0.001) and achieved a significantly greater jump height in both types of jumps (21.2 ± 3.62 cm vs. 14.9 ± 2.32 cm; p < 0.001 in SJ and 23.4 ± 4.1 cm vs. 16.4 ± 4.1 cm; p < 0.001 in CMJ). Achilles tendon stiffness did not show any statistically significant differences (p = 0.413) between athletes (116.3 ± 32.5 N/mm) and non-athletes (106.4 ± 32.8 N/mm). Athletes were more likely to reach strain magnitudes close to or higher than 8.5% strain compared to non-athletes (frequency: 24% vs. 9%) indicating an increased mechanical demand for the tendon. Although normalized muscle strength and jumping performance were greater in athletes, gymnastic-specific training in preadolescence did not cause a significant adaptation of Achilles tendon stiffness. The potential contribution of the high mechanical demand for the tendon to the increasing risk of tendon overuse call for the implementation of specific exercises in the athletic training of preadolescent athletes that increase tendon stiffness and support a balanced adaptation within the muscle-tendon unit.
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This article was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Open Access Publication Fund of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.